NewsChannel 15 sits down with VA Northern Indiana Director

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – More than ten years ago, Michael Hershman and some friends made a pact– try to work for Veterans Affairs. For Hershman, that goal has been achieved, and it brought him here to Northeast Indiana.

The local director has been on the job for more than a month, and he sat down with NewsChannel 15 on Wednesday to talk about the issues the VA has faced in the past and what his plans are for the future.

Some noticeable changes will come soon to the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System. Smaller things like valet parking and fresh cooked meals to larger things like expanding the women’s center will all be here by year’s end. Director Michael Hershman’s number one goal is enhancing the veterans’ experience.

“Couple friends and I quite a few years ago had some family members we were aware of who had quite a few frustrations with veteran health,” Hershman said. “In that conversation at a conference we determined that if we ever had an opportunity to make a difference we would make a difference.”

Hershman spent 29 years in the army as well as served as COO at several health facilities including an army hospital. He’s recently moved to veteran status, and said the issue veterans face most here is not knowing what their benefits are.

“We have to do a better job of talking to veterans up front,” Hershman said. “Where they may be at risk for a co payment or at risk for a total bill if they seek care outside out system.”

There are 144,000 veterans in the area, and about 60,000 are enrolled with the VA. Starting in January Hershman and his staff are rolling out a welcome home campaign.

“We’re going to talk to the rest of them and say you’ve earned the right to come to your VA for care,” he said.

This summer NewsChannel 15 got a call from veteran Kenneth Hanks who said he received two other patients’ medical information in the mail along with his own. This happened nearly three months before Hershman started, but he was well aware of the issue.

After our story, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly requested a full investigation and report back as to why it happened. Then interim director Jay Miller told us it was because of a machine malfunctioning at a mailing center in Marion.

Hershman said in all 12 veterans received two other people’s medical information in the mail like Hanks. In response, all those veterans have received credit checking and referencing by the VA for up to three years. Also, more quality control has been established involving humans actually double checking the mailings.

“I actually observed the process recently from the machine being fed, to the letters coming out the other end, to the quality control checking of each envelope to ensure the address appears properly,” Hershman said. “If the standard operating procedure and the quality control checks are followed this should never happen again.”

With the upcoming election we asked Hershman if the winner could throw any changes the department is not ready for.

“I hope we stay the course no matter what happens next week,” Hershman said. “We’ve received many resources from Congress and many new programs have been rolled out. I’d like to see those continued into the future.”

Hershman gave us a preview of an announcement the center will make on Veterans Day. Without giving too much information on the surprise away, he said it will have to do with getting veterans same day care for acute health and mental health ailments.